Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Scarecrows and Matchstick Men

“Some people without brains do an awful lot of talking.” Scarecrow in “The Wizard of Oz”
 Rice Paddy

One track on the Counting Crows CD “Somewhere Under Wonderland” is “Scarecrow,” where Adam Duritz sings, “I am the scarecrow, Snowman Freakshow.”  John Mellencamp’s “Scarecrow” CD contains a song about farmers losing their property called “Rain on the Scarecrow.” In “Batman Begins” Cillian Murphy played The Scarecrow, AKA Dr. Jonathan Crane, a mad psychologist who invented a gas that produces hallucinations in his victims.
 "Huddersfield" by L.S. Lowry

On WXRT’s Saturday morning show about 1968 I heard songs by one-hit wonders Lemon Pipers (“Green Tambourine”) and Status Quo (“Pictures of Matchstick Men”).  The latter title refers to the work of English artist L.S. Lowry, whose industrial landscapes, such as the haunting “Huddersfield” (1965), employ human figures that critics branded “matchstick men.”  Other 1968 one-hit wonders include Jeannie C. Riley (“Harper Valley PTA”) and John Fred and his Playboy Band (“Judy in Disguise with Glasses”).  At Camelot Lanes James rolled two games in the 1940s and finished with a 400 series.

Robin Dluzen’s art pieces, on display at IUN’s gallery, hark back to the matchstick men in L.S. Lowry’s naïve masterpieces.  Dluzen has also painted industrial landscapes, including an impression of U.S. Steel’s Gary Works.

Matt Bai’s “All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid,” deals with Miami Herald reporters staking out Gary Hart’s townhouse in 1987 in order to catch him in an affair with Donna Rice.  The media-created “scandal” ruined Hart’s chances for the 1988 Presidential nomination and made him a laughing-stock, like Pee-wee Herman or  Andrew Weiner.  One misconception is that Hart previously had dared reporters to follow him around.  He half-jokingly issued the challenge only to New York Times reporter E.J. Dionne.  The Miami Herald staff, reacting to an anonymous tip, was unaware of the quote when they launched their dragnet operation.  The infamous photo of Hart in a “Monkey Business Crew” t-shirt with Donna Rice on his lap appeared in National Enquirer after Hart suspended his candidacy.  Woodward and Bernstein becoming media stars gave rise to “gotcha journalism” - the rush to unearth the next “-Gate.” The Miami Herald’s stalking of Hart, in Bai’s words, was “the very moment when the walls between the public and private lives of candidates, between politics and celebrity, came tumbling down forever.” Once great dailies were sinking to the level of scandal sheets.  Hart was their first straw man.

In December of 1987, Hart boldly (some would say foolishly) reactivated his candidacy, proclaiming, “Let’s let the people decide.”  I had admired Hart when he worked for George McGovern in 1972 and for his issues-oriented 1984 campaign in Democratic primaries against Walter Mondale.  Learning that Hart was interested in speaking at college campuses, I arranged for him to come to IUN, even intending to meet him at O’Hare.  Then he begged off.  His campaign for the Democratic nomination fizzled after he received only 4 percent of the New Hampshire primary vote.

Bai speculates: “Had Hart bested George H.W. Bush in 1988, as he was well on his way to doing, it’s difficult to imagine that Bush’s aimless eldest son would have somehow ascended from nowhere to become governor of Texas and then president within 12 years’ time.”  Only in an alternative universe would that scenario have played out, I’m afraid. There’s no limit to what dirty tricks Republicans would have employed against a man who changed his name from Hartpence, was a peacenik, and a known philanderer even before he met Donna Rice. 

Adam Begley’s biography of John Updike claims that the novelist, poet, critic, and short story master was never too miserable to write, to engage in what Updike termed “creation’s giddy bliss.”  His unabashed love of country, never mind his searing criticisms of its failings, comes through in the quote, “America is a vast conspiracy to make you happy.”   I loved Updike’s alter egos, most of all Rabbit Angstrom, who died after besting a young black guy in one-on-one basketball.  Updike’s final story, “Full Glass,” describes a “strange old guy” near his “endpoint,” drinking “a toast to the visible world, his impending disappearance from it be damned.”

Charles Halberstadt and Anna Commiskey’s nuptials took place outdoors on a cold, rainy, windy autumn Saturday in Michigan City.   The service, mercifully short, included Charles and Anna putting love letters in a wooden box containing a bottle of wine.  If a rough point in the marriage occurs, the minister advised them to open the wine and read each other’s letters; otherwise, make that part of their silver anniversary celebration.  Nice.  Like his parents and sister Sheridan, Charles is a former student and wrote a history of Halberstadt Game Weekend, now closing in on its fortieth anniversary, that I published in my Eighties Shavings.
Jim and Toni with Tom Wade, Don Price, and Brady Wade
At the Halberstadt reception Californian Don Price, a former deejay, critiqued some of the songs on the playlist.  “Ooh Baby Baby,” for instance, is a cheating man’s lament, while “Runaround Sue” is about an unfaithful woman.  During his toast Charles quipped that he met Anna when she was his boss and now again will be his boss.  The couple lives with Anna’s sister and two kids plus four dogs, but Charles, despite being a cat man, seems totally happy.  From gaming we know Anna to be very compatible.  Both used the phrase “best friend” to describe the other.  For one dance married couples asked to participate were gradually eliminated in inverse proportion to how long they’d been married.  After 45 years only Toni and plus one other couple, married 48 years to our 49, were left. 

East Chicago Central grad Kawann Short starred in the Carolina Panthers’ victory over the Bears.  Not only did the defensive tackle nicknamed KK deflect two of Cutler’s passes and make key tackles, he caused normally sure-handed Matt Forte to cough up the football.  Seven years ago, Short and E’Twaun Moore (now a Chicago Bull) led Central’s basketball team to the Indiana state title.  At Purdue Kawann developed into a 2012 second-team All-American.  Eager to give back to his hometown, Kawann has started a charity to give books and other assistance to East Chicago schools and has chartered busses to transport Central students to a Purdue football game and campus tour.

In order to send a letter on Anne Balay’s behalf to Northwestern, I first needed to have Steve McShane make a PDF and then post it to a site.  Here’s what I wrote:
I heartily recommend Anne Balay for a teaching position in the English Department of Northwestern University.  I first met Anne when she presented a scholarly paper at an Arts and Sciences conference at Indiana University Northwest.  She breathed life into a subject that might not have otherwise interested me, and she demonstrated a self-confidence and wit that made me want to know her better.  That chance came when she was researching LGBT steelworkers for a manuscript that eventually became “Steel Closets: Voices of Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Steelworkers” a path breaking study that University of North Carolina Press published. I found it to be a model oral history (which happens to be my field of specialization), respectful of the 40 people she interviewed and not flawed by theory-based preconceptions.  To immerse herself in the topic, she talked with straight, as well as gay, steelworkers and read up on modern steelmaking operations.  In other words, her work is of the highest order.
I have come to be friends with Anne, who is very personable and nonjudgmental in her relationships with others, and in the
Summer of 2013 audited Anne’s Gender Studies course.  I found her to be a fabulous communicator who had excellent rapport with all the students, African American, Latino, and white, ranging in age from 18 to 50, and including a couple Republicans.  Several of the students in that course went on to deliver papers at scholarly conferences in Bloomington and South Bend.  Anne is a truly transformative teacher who is particularly skilled with motivating “A” students to stretch their intellectual horizons and would be a priceless asset to any university.

At Flamingo’s Anne said Robin Hass Birky taught her to do PDFs right before she died when a truck blew through a red light on Route 49.  Were Robin alive, both Jerry Peirce and Anne would still be at IUN, I’m convinced.  Anne is taking a hiatus from driving a truck to promote or speak about “Steel Closets” in Madison, Nashville, Philadelphia (at Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and the Big Blue Marble Queer Literary Festival), Indianapolis, and San Juan, Puerto Rico.  For three weeks she trained with a lesbian driver, traveling from Minnesota to Mississippi and many points in between.  A growing number of Somali immigrants are long-distance truckers and generally stick to themselves, she noted. Anne was off to St. Louis to drop her dog off with  Emma (below, with her mom).
 "Speed Bump," reprinted from The American Historian

In The American Historian magazine Heather Cox Richardson discussed blogging in an article entitled “The New Social History.”  The type of blogs she is talking about have strictly to do with investigating or reacting to past events or providing context for contemporary issues.  I do that and much more.  My “New Social History” involves fleshing out people around me who otherwise with the passing of time would become like scarecrows or matchstick figures, whose essence was lost to history. 

While rooting for the Bears, I had Carolina in the CBS pool and finished second out of 18 people.  Going into Monday night, I was locked into second no matter which team won so rooted (in vain) for the Skins over Seattle.
Steve McShane and I attended the Open House and ribbon-cutting ceremony for refurbished Cedar Hall, once a daycare center and now home to IUN’s Office of University Advancement and External Affairs.  Vice Chancellor Jeri Pat Gabbert (above) heads a 14-person unit (none secretaries), including my longtime friends Ryan Shelton in Marketing, Paulette LaFata-Johnson in Alumni Relations, Linda Sharma in Special Events, and TerryAnn Defenser in Public Relations.  Comely, well-spoken, and one who looks you right in the eye, Gabbert reminds me some of granddaughter Alissa, who interned for University Advancement six years ago.  Chancellor Lowe, who quipped, “There must be food” when he saw me (vaguely insulting but meant as a joke), made tasteful remarks during the brief ceremony, saying that the Cedar tree stands for longevity and prosperity, and that the state-of-the-art building and excellent support team auger well for the university’s future.
At the Open House I talked with Marketing director Tom Wyatt (above), who bears a resemblance to his predecessor Chris Sheid.  Wyatt had been a reporter at the Post-Trib and recalled having dealings with me during Gary’s centennial.  He grew up in the tiny but historic community of Furnessville, located between Chesterton and Michigan City not far from Beverly Shores.  Wyatt was once a sports stringer for the Valparaiso Vidette-Messenger before The Times purchased it in 1995, so we exchanged anecdotes about Northwest Indiana high school basketball and still active sports columnists John Mutka and Al Hamnik.
Dave told me about a Showtime documentary about Australian band INXS (above) called “Never Tear Us Apart.”  We saw INXS live 20 years ago at the Star Plaza opening for Adam Ant before they were well-known.  The suicide of frontman Michael Hutchence ended their amazing run.  I picked up a two-CD INXS set at the library, making sure it included “Don’t Change.”  Its unforgettable chorus goes, “Don’t change for you, don’t change a thing for me.”  Shannon Pontney loved INXS, and Dave’s band Voodoo Chili learned it especially for her. 

With the library’s free books was Margaret Truman’s biography of her mother Bess.  I picked it up for Nicole Anslover, who talked about the First Lady on C-Span.  Margaret describes her mother as one “who kept her deepest feelings, her most profound sorrows, sealed from my view – from almost everyone’s view.”  Her father, plagued by financial reverses, committed suicide when she 18, and the husband of a friend, Frances Swopes, turned out to be a mass murderer hoping to get his hands of the family fortune.

Trish Arredondo listed me on the “Maria’s Journey” website as an “in house speaker” when she and Ray aren’t available.  On the way to Florida they visited her Hull relatives in Tennessee and went to the Cordell Hull house to conduct research on her family for a book.  FDR’s secretary of state was a cousin of Trish’s grandfather Daily Hull. Trish wrote: “Lots of gatherings a the home place with family.  Went from wine to moonshine.  We are nothing if not diverse.”

Michael Bayer shared a photo about the Danish welfare state from Mint Press News.  Kyle Kim wondered why he guy whose feet were on the desk was wearing non-matching shoes.

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